FAA Furloughs Resolved; Weather Observers In Doubt

Executive Summary: The FAA resumed normal air traffic operations on yesterday on the heels of legislation passed by the U.S. Congress that permits the U.S. Department of Transportation to reallocate up to $253 million from other FAA programs--most notably the Airport Improvement Program (AIP)--to pay for FAA operational expenses.  The legislation is undergoing minor editorial amendments today and is expected to be signed into law early this week.

At the same time, U.S. airports are facing the loss of FAA contract weather observers (CWOs) as the FAA moves to shut the CWO program down. CWOs provide supplemental weather observations to those produced by automated weather observation systems and act as backup observers in the event of the failure of these automated systems.

A total of 121 airports--ranging in size from large hubs to non-hubs--will ultimately lose their CWOs in several rounds of closures, starting on May 1 and continuing through August 31. In the place of CWOs, FAA tower controllers will perform weather observations in the event of automated weather observation system failures. The FAA has also noted that airport operators may need to provide supplemental weather observers to collect weather data that cannot be observed effectively from tower cabs including winter precipitation data. 

Issues: On April 26, the U.S. Congress passed the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013.  The Act, which is undergoing minor technical revisions today and is expected to be signed by President Obama this week, provides the U.S. Secretary of Transportation with flexibility to utilize up to $253 million from other FAA programs--including non-obligated, discretionary funding from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP)--to "prevent reduced operations and staffing of the Federal Aviation Administration during fiscal year 2013 to ensure a safe and efficient air transportation system."

Acting on the assumption that the Act will become law, the FAA discontinued air traffic controller furloughs on April 28 and normal air traffic operations resumed last night.

At the same time, FAA is moving forward with its plans to shut down its CWO program. These plans are outlined detailed in a Transition Plan, dated March 15, 2013, that has only recently and indirectly shared with ACI-NA. As shown in the Transition Plan, CWOs will be discontinued at an initial group of 14 airports on May 1, followed by subsequent groups of airports July 15, July 31, August 15, and August 31.  A total of 121 airports--ranging in size from large hubs to non-hubs--will ultimately lose their CWOs by August 31.

In the place of CWOs, FAA will use certified air traffic controllers, termed "Limited Aviation Weather Reporting Stations" (LAWRS), operating from airport traffic control tower cabs to perform weather observations. However, the FAA has also noted that LAWRS will need to be supplemented by trained airport operator personnel and/or airport contractors. These supplemental observers are particularly critical for observations of winter precipitation, which automated weather observation systems cannot reliably assess. 

ACI-NA is very concerned that the FAA has not coordinated its CWO Transition Plan with airport operators. We are also very concerned about the unilateral FAA decision to shift the costs and responsibilities associated with weather observations from the FAA to airport operators. 

Who is Impacted: One hundred and twenty-one U.S. airports, including all 30 of the FAA's "Core 30" airports.

What is ACI-NA Doing?: ACI-NA is working with FAA ATO to obtain more detailed information about the CWO Transition Plan. We are also seeking delayed implementation of the plan until we can be assured that policies and procedures are in place to ensure that current weather observation capabilities are not compromised during the transition.

Needed Airport Action:

  • Review the CWO Transition Plan and determine if and when your airport's CWO program will be discontinued.
  • Let ACI-NA know if you've been informed of the CWO transition and, if so, when and by whom you were informed.
  • Let ACI-NA know if you anticipate adverse operational or financial impacts as a result of the CWO transition.

ACI-NA Contacts:   Chris Oswald coswald@aci-na.org and Matt Griffin mgriffin@aci-na.org


This briefing has been sent to ACI-NA Official Representatives and members of the Operations & Technical Affairs, Small Airports, and Public Safety & Security Committees.